Ghostwriting 101: How to Find Your Client’s Voice

A natural representation of what's it like to find your client's voice.

Branding is more important than ever, which is why clients need a writer that just “gets them.” You probably already ask clients to describe their tone of voice. Maybe you even go through their brand book to get a sense of the personality they want to portray. But have you dug into the deeper meaning behind it all? 

As my writing career has progressed, I began developing a more systematic approach to understanding not only my clients’ brand voice, but the deeper values that make their brand meaningful. I eventually came up with this 6-point client alignment solution, and I’d like to share it with you to see how you build upon it for your own writing business!

Why is alignment important?

Before I created a client alignment process, you could find me sitting at my desk rubbing my eyes trying to figure out why the words weren’t flowing as I hopped from one client project to another. I had two clients describe their brands with the same keywords: “Friendly, casual, relatable.” The execution? Completely different. 

Where one wanted a sarcastic quip, the other wanted a kind, uplifting, here-to-hold-your-hand writing style. One had a best friend since childhood vibe, the other was more motherly and mentorly. Once I got to know them both, I was able to revise my perception and help them identify better-fitting definitions, but a client alignment session could’ve helped us all get there so much faster.

When I use this system, it:

  • Makes it clear to the client that I care about representing their brand
  • Gets the client thinking about how they want their company to be perceived 
  • Streamlines the process of finding the right voice when I sit down to write for a client
  • Greatly increases the chance that the content I’m creating resonates with minimal revisions

Whether you’re new to freelance writing or just rethinking how you approach the client onboarding and styling process, let’s breakdown the system I use and see how you can adapt it to fit your needs. 

What is client alignment?

Client alignment means adopting a client’s mindset, which I feel should encompass:

  1. Frame of mind
  2. Philosophy
  3. Values
  4. Outlook
  5. Disposition
  6. Culture 

Getting into the “client mindset” before each meeting or project will make it easier for you to come up with the right verbiage and flow to resonate with the client’s objectives and create content that the brand loves. 

How do you cultivate client alignment? 

If you’re meeting with a potential or new client, no one expects you to be aligned yet — instead, use that first interaction as an opportunity to ask questions that will help you find the alignment. To achieve client alignment, I take notes on their six mindset points, which I’ve defined as follows. 

1. Frame of Mind

Frame of mind is a broad and long-term notion. It’s the client’s general perception of the world and their industry. It’s their way of thinking. It’s what they expect from society and the role they want to play in that vision. 

Frame of mind is relatively unchanging over time. To define it, try summing up the company’s founding reason and their mission statement. Here’s an example: 

Salesforce wanted to create a customer relationship management platform that was easy to maintain and update without complex software maintenance. Their mission is to build bridges between companies and customers by enabling more meaningful connections.” 

2. Philosophy 

Philosophy defines a company’s guiding principles and the specific direction they’re moving in. Why is their mission what it is? What makes their mission meaningful? Here’s an example: 

“Salesforce believes the world will change, but customer focus remains. As sure as the sun will rise, there will be new technologies, new social trends, new things that matter right now. But the customer will still be the customer. Discerning. Demanding. Eager to be wowed.”

3. Values

Values represent unchanging beliefs; they’re statements and ideals that are core to the company. Think about the standards that the company is trying to uphold every day to embrace its philosophy and achieve its mission. Here’s an example: 

“Salesforce believes trust is an ever more valuable commodity. Relationships are gold. When customers succeed, they succeed. They feel they must act as trusted advisors and provide the most-trusted infrastructure. They think everyone deserves equal opportunities.”

4. Outlook

Outlook is current and specific and will evolve with time. Think about what a better world looks like to your client. Ask questions about how they’re innovating and making an impact. What challenges are they overcoming? What trends are they embracing or standing against? What stereotypes or misconceptions are they defeating? 

Salesforce is a $219B company, so its outlook is far-reaching, covering generative AI, data privacy, and the future of work, with outlooks like: “Salesforce has taken a strong stance on generative AI and is committed to building trusted, transparent, and accountable AI systems that prioritize fairness, accuracy, privacy, and positive societal impact, and will continue this commitment as the technology continues to advance.”

Salesforce also speaks openly about changing data regulations, stating: “Salesforce welcomes the Executive Order on trans-Atlantic data transfers. They believe it will increase privacy protections for individuals worldwide and strengthen trust in the continued validity of all EU cross-border data transfer mechanisms.”

For most companies, outlook is very core to operations.

In a recent conversation with a boutique HR firm, we got to the bottom of their outlook by thinking about negative hiring trends, like the fact that so many candidates are ghosted. They went on to explain that they’re actively improving the candidate experience with easier applications, shorter interview cycles, and stronger communication to ensure candidates almost always hear back, even if it’s a no. 

5. Disposition 

Disposition is a company’s temperament. Think of it as the unchanging characteristics that make the brand unique. Disposition often matches up with keywords that could be found in the brand’s voice guidelines, but maybe expands on them a bit. 

For example, Salesforce is warmer, friendlier, and more fun than your average tech company. Their voice is always truthful and genuine, avoiding exaggeration or misdirection. They choose keywords like honest, helpful, inspiring, and heartful.

p.s. Before I developed this client alignment process, a brief brand voice description like above was about all I would collect. You can imagine how much room it left for interpretation! 

6. Culture 

Culture in the context of your work as a writer should define the extraordinary things about how a company works. What makes them different from competitors? How will they make customers feel special? Why do employees love working there? 

Cultural notes might not be directly expressed in the content you create, but it helps you align with the overarching theme and atmosphere the company wants to create. 

For example, Salesforce’s culture is built around the idea that we’re all bound together. Its family includes customers, employees, partners, and communities. They take care of each other, have fun together, and work collaboratively to make the world a better place.

My Tips for Finding Client Alignment 

Client alignment doesn’t come all at once. It’s a process that you’ll execute overtime through interactions and projects. Here are my best tips for reaching that point of alignment sooner rather than later. 

Make Assumptions Then Ask for Clarity 

In your first meeting with a new client, you can do some sleuthing beforehand (highly recommended) to begin drawing conclusions from any materials the client has provided you so far, whether that’s the job description, company website, or messages you’ve exchanged. You never have to go into a call empty-handed.

I like to make informed assumptions about the six mindset points and use those assumptions as jumping-off points that are then clarified or corrected during the meeting. 

The sleuthing process shows that you’ve invested some time into prep work and you’re excited to get to know a client and their company. In the case of misinterpretations, it can help you identify areas where maybe the client’s personality and values aren’t shining through so clearly (i.e., something you can help them with). 

Use Feedback to Evolve Your Perception 

Language is subject to interpretation, just think back on how many different ways a person could dream up a “friendly” tone. While aligning on all six points will help you avoid misunderstandings and immerse yourself in the big picture of what a company is trying to do, there’s still going to be refinement taking place practically all the time.

When a client offers feedback that shifts your perception of prior notions or maybe contradicts them entirely, take the time to ask them: Is this an exception or something I should be applying to all projects? Update the guidelines you’ve created for yourself as you have these conversations. 

Find Ways to Empathize With The Deeper Meaning

Clients can tell you all day long how they’re doing great things. Sure, you can reiterate them in your content and get the “gist” of it on paper, but you can get on the fast track to truly resonating with the company’s target audience by finding ways to build empathy and connection.

With my long-term clients, I always look for opportunities to meet with various teams in the sales, marketing, and service departments to hear how they perceive the company and its goals from different perspectives. I also enjoy reading case studies, sitting in on webinars, watching product demos, and diving into the user interface if the client provides access. 

As you start to get to know the client better — from your primary contact to their team to their customers — you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what they mean when they state otherwise buzz-y terms like “human-centric” or “innovative.” That deeper insight will be reflected in the quality of the content you create. 

Learn to Become a Strategic Partner to Your Clients

Hate meetings? Fear asking questions? Worried you’ll come across wrong? One of the best things I can tell you is that questions are not a nuisance. Asking a client questions isn’t annoying. If anything, clients will appreciate that you’re inquisitive. People generally love to talk about themselves and their companies. They want to know that you care about representing them well. They might even go into overtime explaining, but that’s not always the case. 

As I gained more confidence asking my clients about their brands, I began to be more frequently met with: “That’s a great question…” followed by a long, pondering silence. For a lot of individuals and businesses, they just don’t have these things figured out yet – and that’s where you come in.

Moving from “just a writer” to being a strategic partner is key to building long-term relationships and increasing the value you’re providing to your clients. If you’re met with a brand that doesn’t have everything figured out yet as you try to align with them, maybe you can help them align with their customers. 

Want to learn more about making yourself a more valuable writer? Come join our Slack channel!

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I share the alignment notes with my clients?

Absolutely! In my opinion, sharing your notes with the client gives you the opportunity to (one) showoff how awesome and organized you are and (two) open the doors for further clarification or collaboration, if they decide to comment or share extra info. 

Your notes are also an extremely valuable resource for brands that don’t already have all sorts of brand assets plotted out, and encouraging them to give it to future writers and collaborators just shows how much you care about their company, consistency, and success. When you create value, don’t hide it away. 

What if a client provides a brand book and other documents? 

If a client shares brand assets with you, like a style guide, always go through the process of trying to answer the alignment points using those materials. Make assumptions and ask them to clarify and correct where needed. This process will also help you dive below the surface and better understand your client’s intentions. 

Where should I store my alignment notes? 

I personally keep notes for each client in a “Master Document” that I reference before each meeting or project. This can be a Google Docs or a Notion page. I know writers who use Apple Notes. It’s totally up to you, but take this advice: Keep it simple and accessible! Don’t create a super long document that you have to track down and scroll through every week.

Sydney Chamberlain
Sydney Chamberlain
As Founder of the Society of Writers, Sydney Chamberlain is devoted to helping women navigate the complexities of freelancing and hone the skills they need to build a thriving business. Her expertise is rooted in nine years as a content writer where she earned first-hand experience with the personal branding, finance, and negotiation tactics that she now teaches the Society.

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